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National Bike Month, Week 2: Proclamations and Parties

May 16, 2012

In my continuing coverage of all things National Bike Month in Rockville, MD and some in D.C., I present Week 2.

In Rockville, the week kicked off with the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee being totally outclassed by a bunch of adorable children. This was a Very Good Thing. The occasion was the annual meeting of the Mayor and City Council where they recognize children participating in the town’s Terrific Kids program and make a city proclamation of National Bike Month.

Terrific Kids is a program designed to reward kids from kindergarten through sixth grade for demonstrating a number of positive personal characteristics: being trustworthy, earnest, respectful, responsible, involved, fair, and caring. Once they complete six or more “responsible acts” (I think one was picking up litter) and document them with the help of a parent or mentor, the city recognizes them for being awesome. And how does the city choose to recognize them? With a great symbol of personal freedom – their very own bicycle, complete with helmet and lock. The kids get to participate in the aforementioned ceremony as well, but I don’t think I would have found that nearly as cool as getting my very own bike. At the meeting, the mayor recognized 29 kids, who ranged in attitude from beaming like they were getting an Oscar to awkwardly looking down on the floor.

Rockville’s mayor at the podium, congratulating a recipient.

I love a bunch of things about this program. I love that it sets bicycling up as a positive thing that can provide freedom to young people. I like that it provides children with free bicycles, many of whom wouldn’t be able to afford them otherwise, without it seeming like charity. No one likes getting stuff because people feel pity for them. But these kids have earned their bikes and everyone likes getting stuff they’ve earned. Lastly, the bicycles are actually recycled. People donate gently used bikes to the local group Bikes for the World, which refurbishes and redistributes them. As kids’ bikes are often less beat-up than adult bikes because they outgrow them so quickly, it’s a great way to give these bikes new life in a place they’re needed.

Following up on the parade of adorable children, we had our city proclamation of National Bike Month. This mainly involved our committee’s chair and our cycling councilperson getting up and talking for a few minutes about how Rockville values bicycling. It wasn’t as exciting as kids getting awards, but it’s nice to have our town acknowledge that bicycling has individual and community benefits.

The Rockville bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Matt Folden, on the left, with the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee chair, Nancy Breen on the right. Also, I totally staged this photo.

From the slightly less staid-than-usual town council meeting on Monday, Friday switched gears to party-time – the Bike Fest fundraiser for the Washington Area Bicycle Association. I’m usually too cheap to attend charity fundraisers – they often run to at least $100 per ticket. In contrast, Bike Fest was very affordable – the highest ticket price was only $55 and they had a $35 sale for several weeks. Instead of an event only the most well-off could attend, that low price made it a party for the bicycling community as a whole. The theme was “Speakeasy,” so I wore my glamorous green lace dress that makes me feel like a movie star.

I started off just walking around, as there was plenty to look at. They had a great silent auction, with options as diverse as kayaking on the Potomac to dinner for two at the Tabard Inn with an adorable bike basket and helmet. I bid on a package that included a night at a former canal masters’ cabin along the C&O Canal trail, but was outbid very quickly. They also had a custom bike-building contest, where they invited three local shops to build bikes on a very limited budget. One was a bamboo bike, bound together with hemp and epoxy.

One was a kid’s cyclocross bike, because the builders said that a bunch of kids had come to them wanting to do cyclocross but couldn’t find bikes in their size. There are plenty of kids’ mountain bikes, but they’re far too heavy for cyclocross, which requires frequently carrying your bike. To solve the problem, they took apart a single speed road bike, added seven gears, and changed out the handlebars and wheels. But the last entry was the most eye-catching and distinctive. It was a bright orange tandem bicycle, decorated with a large bronzed metal butterfly. The seats and handlebars were covered in fuzzy, orange fabric. It was quite the sight. The story was even more impressive – it was originally a 1940s Schwinn tandem that was in terrible shape.

Later, when the bicycles were auctioned off to the public, it sold for $900! Pricey, but quite a deal for a hand-built bicycle. That one was my favorite, but I think the bamboo one actually won the voting.

The party also had pretty good hand-passed hors d’oeuvres, which I managed to leverage into a conversation. As I nabbed a mushroom skewered on a rosemary twig, I noticed a young man who also appeared to be by himself. I introduced myself and we chatted about bicycling and DC for quite a while. Then, Anica, one of the women I met at the Women on Bikes meetup last week, walked up to us and said “I remember you!” Indeed. As Anica is quite chatty as well, the three of us kept up a vibrant conversation for quite a while. Just the group was breaking up, I ran into one, then two, then three people from the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee! Even though I didn’t actually go with anyone, it ended up being quite the social event. That’s one major advantage of being part of a community with a common interest – it’s quite likely that if you go to a related event, you’ll find someone you know. The other cool thing illustrated by the crowd is the diversity of this community. There were people of all ages, sexes, and races attending, showing that bicycling really can be for everyone, not just the stereotype of middle class, young, white hipsters.

In addition to the fine company, food, and prizes, there were also some quality speakers. A long time bicycle advocate and one of the founders of WABA, Peter Harnick, spoke about how the organization has been around for 40 years, back when there were no bike lanes and hardly any cyclists. Heck, I’ve only been in the D.C. area for four years and seen a huge transformation. I can’t imagine seeing it with the experience of decades of advocacy behind you. We have so far to go, especially outside of cities like D.C., but seeing this progress is so encouraging. He gave a really nice rah-rah speech.

Even though neither event actually involved any time on the bike, both were valuable in terms of what they said about cycling in the D.C. Metro area. The Rockville ceremony showed that my city appreciates bicycles as a positive tool for change for both young and old. WABA’s Bike Fest illustrated the diversity of the larger cycling community, how it’s worked together over time to get where we are now, and how it’s continuing to collaborate in support. Plus, they were both a lot of fun.

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